Student or Learner
Would you please correct my grammar and punctuation in the sixth part of my short story?
As we rode through the village whose inhabitants had fought against the Serb forces, a gruesome scene played in front of our eyes. A dozen of houses were in flames, which leapt high in the blue sky. Several corpses lay around, with their faces to the ground, probably shot at the back. Cattle, poultry and dogs roamed aimlessly. Horses bolted and run in one direction, and then in another, as if their manes were on fire. A truck was parked beside one of the houses, which was undamaged. Soldiers were busy with taking out the loot and loading it onto the back of the truck, what with a washing machine, a refrigerator, and a TV. The bus pulled up and our guard opened the door and spoke with a group of soldiers who stood beside the road.
“How’s it going, boys?” he asked.
“Fine,” one of them answered. “They’re shooting at us from the woods. But for every shot, we set another house on fire.” The solders laughed and raised three fingers in a Serb salute.
We rode for a few minutes before the bus pulled up again, this time to give a ride to a soldier on leave and his girlfriend. He was in his twenties, and he wore a spotless olive-green uniform and a beret. He stood in the aisle front of me, and I smelled the oil wafting from the barrel of his AK-47.
“Who are these people,” he asked our guard who loved watches.
“Prisoners of war,” he answered. “Do you want--,” he proffered him a watch, but the soldier shook his head, which made our guard disappointed. He frowned and slipped the watch back into his bulging pocket. He probably wanted to share his treasure with the others and gain their approval. The teenage girl was beautiful. She wore a light summer dress and a short skirt. The scent of her delicate perfume felt like a breath of fresh air in the hot, stuffy bus. I wondered what she thought of us. Did she believe all the lies local radio was beaming twenty-four hours a day about the evil Bosniaks and Croats? Would she be able to protect her mind against the indoctrination which taught her to hate?
We arrived at the iron ore mining complex, which drew heavy sighs from some of the people. Before they had been dismissed from their job, they had spent years working in this place, and now the prospect of being incarcerated here felt insane. But the bus barely stopped when an officer strode to the gate and shouted, “We’re packed. Turn around!”
Again, we passed through the destroyed village with the burning houses, and the smiling soldiers raising their three fingers in a salute. We ended up in the former tiles factory, just about two kilometres from my home. It was a low, long building with a white facade and a red roof. I had ridden my bicycle as a teenager many times by the nondescript building, but I could never have imagined that one day I was going to be imprisoned there.
We were ordered to get out of the buses, line up and turn towards the wall. The guards frisked us thoroughly and took everything they had found in our pockets, but did not hurt anyone. They ushered us into a large hall. A nightmarish scene gave me goose pimples. Hundreds of eyes stared at me from the exhausted faces sitting on the floor. Some of the men paced nervously. They asked me if I had a cigarette. From the smeared windows close to the ceiling, the afternoon sun fell on the dirty concrete floor and the particles of dust rising in the stale air. I turned around to see where I could sit down and saw that the only empty place was close to the entrance door. Someone gave me a sheet of cardboard, and I sat on it beside an old man who later told me he was 82 years old. What kind of danger did he pose to the authorities? Had he also plotted to destroy the Serb nation? He was breathing heavily and complained he needed his medicine, which he had forgotten to take when he was arrested. To the right of me, an overweight man called Omar slumped down. He sweated profusely and cursed his bad luck. “Balkan will always be Balkan, savage and primitive,” he groaned, and wiped his sweaty forehead with the sleeve of his jacket. The previous year he had returned from Germany, where he had worked for more than two decades. He had bought a truck with his saved money and started his own company, but the war had killed his business and his dreams. The Serb authorities would certainly requisition his truck, and he would never see it again. He sat bent forward on his piece of cardboard with his hands on his outstretched legs, and shook his bold head in resignation.
The large door of the hall was constantly open, and I had a perfect view over the courtyard. A machine gun nest with two bored guards stood to the right about fifteen meters away from the hall. The barrel of the gun stared at me all the time, as a reminder of what my life was going to be until the end of the war. To the left of the machine gun nest was a reception kiosk where more soldier idled, smoking and chatting. And more to the left, stood hundreds of crates of beer and other drinks stacked up in the form of a square. Some of the guards sat on the grass, holding their rifle in one hand and in other a bottle of beer. Among them, I recognized the burly man who had been disarmed by his comrades a few hours before. He was dishevelled, his uniform unbuttoned and his boots unlaced. He looked more like a prisoner of war than a real soldier. But his eyes glowered even more than before. I was in no doubt that if he had a chance to decide about our fate, he would certainly kill us all.
The evening came, and a myriad of twinkling stars filled the dark sky. The breeze carried a fresh air, which I inhaled deeply. If the war had not broken out, the town centre would have been packed with people at this time of the evening. Even on ordinary weekdays, it felt like a large party with so many pubs, restaurants, and cafes, and live music of all kinds spilling into the streets. But that life had now gone forever, and it would only continue to exist in the memories of those who would survive and who would tell their offspring what life had been like before the madness of nationalism poisoned the country.
TO BE CONTINUED